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Discussion Starter #1
Suppose you have decided, without question, exactly which brand and model of new saxophone to purchase. You're planning to purchase from a dealer who has carefully inspected the instrument and made adjustments as necessary, but does not allow returns.

Would you feel comfortable buying a "no return allowed" brand new (i.e. not play-tested by other customers) instrument you had not personally played, believing that, if necessary, and for a small price, a good technician can bring it up to the standards of any other instrument of the same model?

In other words, after adjustment by a top technician, are all instruments of a particular model (produced by one of the big four manufacturers) of equal quality, or are there lemons? That is, are all saxophones of a particular "big four" model "within minor tech adjustments" of each other?

Note: This question is about saxophone manufacturers, NOT a particular dealer. However, here's the perspective of one no-returns dealer, Saxforte (again, this question is about manufacturing, NOT Saxforte or any other dealer):

Fortunately, saxophones from the top makers (Selmer (Paris), Keilwerth, Yanagisawa, Yamaha and Rampone & Cazzani) are very consistently made. ... Gone are the days when you had to try several saxophones to find a good one.
(this quotation refers to instruments the dealer has inspected and adjusted); source: http://saxforte.com/about_me/FAQ/faq.html
 

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What are your expectations? How demanding are you of your instrument's performance?

Are all technicians equally good?

Yes, I've bought new Selmers sight unseen and unplayed and have been very fortunate. As luck would have it, my horns outplayed the others of the models I tested. So yes, there is also variability. Would you know it? There's the issue.

Variability in Selmer necks, in particular, is one area where I would rather test several necks than assume a local tech has the ability to optimize a less-than-stellar one.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
What are your expectations? How demanding are you of your instrument's performance?
The question regarded whether all instruments of a particular model could be brought into equal playing condition. Assume the judge is a very demanding player with high expectations.

So yes, there is also variability.
But is that variability inherent to the instruments themselves, or is it due to the way the instruments are set up?
 

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You cannot lump the big 4 together. Their standards are very different. recent Selmers, for example could need replaced pads, springs, and felts before they have consistency in performance and reliability. That is not minor work! With minor tweaking, there is very high consistency with the Japanese big 2. Keilwerth? I have not seen a top model for a while, but their ST (made in Taiwan?) range is IMO a disgrace to the standard and reputation that they seem to have earned with some customers in the past.
 

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There are significant variations between different exemplars of a given horn type, which depend on manufacturing tolerances. Benade says that small differences in edge sharpness, as around toneholes, are the biggest single factor in differences between otherwise-identical horns, but obviously variations in bore profile, especially in necks, is going to also have an effect. It is doubtful that such variations are going to make a particular horn a "lemon" IMO, but differences will be evident when playing one horn against another.
 

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Suppose you have decided, without question, exactly which brand and model of new saxophone to purchase. You're planning to purchase from a dealer who has carefully inspected the instrument and made adjustments as necessary, but does not allow returns.

Would you feel comfortable buying a "no return allowed" brand new (i.e. not play-tested by other customers) instrument you had not personally played, believing that, if necessary, and for a small price, a good technician can bring it up to the standards of any other instrument of the same model?
I would not buy anything that was brand new from a retailer/seller that had a no returns policy! one has to wonder,if it is indeed new, why the seller has a no returns policy. I would also want to test play the horn if I was forking out a large amount of money.


Re all saxes possibily being the same from the same maker and model I would agree with Kymarto re the subtle differences in necks,

I also agree with Gordon's statement about the "big 4"
 

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Discussion Starter #8
one has to wonder,if it is indeed new, why the seller has a no returns policy.
Thanks for your input. It's obvious why some retailers have a no returns policy. In the case of Saxforte, they're appealing to people who want to buy new instruments that haven't been play-tested in a music shop for months, and haven't been previously been shipped all over the country to potential buyers, only to be damaged during testing or shipment. There's definitely a market for that type of sale.
 

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With today's computer controlled machining and manufacturing, there is going to be much less variation in the horns coming off the line. Its going to be a matter of knowing the features and the sound of particular manufacturers, whereupon you are very likely to get what you expect.
 

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I would avoid any retailer that has a no-return policy. As for their quote "...gone are the days when you had to try several saxophones to find a good one." that's obviously a self-serving statement. Here's my story: I wanted a Yamaha 82Z tenor and I had WWBW send me three units on trial, and while they all sounded good, one was clearly different, brighter and more resonant than the other two. No matter who you buy from, you should always have the opportunity to try before you buy.
 

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The question regarded whether all instruments of a particular model could be brought into equal playing condition. Assume the judge is a very demanding player with high expectations.

But is that variability inherent to the instruments themselves, or is it due to the way the instruments are set up?
A judge of highest demands would likely rebuild any instrument (as I have). That's why most people will, for example, suggest that if someone is selling a Mk VI, they leave the overhaul to the buyer rather than investing in a new setup that may not reflect the preferences of someone buying a horn for over $6000.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
I had WWBW send me three units on trial, and while they all sounded good, one was clearly different, brighter and more resonant than the other two.
But I wonder if set-up issues could have caused those differences. Or were there perhaps inherent qualities of the saxophones that caused them.
 

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I would never accept a no return policy and if I were to buy a new saxophone I would most certainly demand to try it beforehand and if at all possible to compare it to a number of the same model in order to chose the best among those. A shop that is not offering returns or the possibility to try and compare will never ever see me among the customers.

A product of the human work and ingenuity , is required to be abiding minimum standards and requirements but no matter how perfect the production processes and the quality control some would be better than others. To say that there is no need to compare or try it is ludicrous.

I have been to see Rampone and Cazzani factory, their horns are made entirely and completely by hand and there is no way that two horns that they made would be exactly the same. Unavoidably , although all of high quality, some would be better than others.
 

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I purchased a Reference 54 alto from a no-return dealer. It was one with the low-note-gurgle problem, and I ended up having to solve the problem with a different neck. I would not purchase from a no-return dealer again. It was an expensive mistake.

[Edit] I should add that I also had it set up by a very accomplished repairman (Ken Beason) in hopes of getting rid of the gurgle. The results were the same. That's the only horn where I've ever had such a problem.
 

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But I wonder if set-up issues could have caused those differences. Or were there perhaps inherent qualities of the saxophones that caused them.
It's almost a "character" thing - think of the sax as a woman - it will respond to your touch, your breath, your heart, and your feelings - that's what you're supposed to play anyway, not just the notes. No two women will respond exactly the same way, even if they were identical twins. You have to fall in love with the instrument in the same way as if you were choosing a mate...:bluewink:
 

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I think I prefer car analogies.

A saxophone is a machine, a tool. If it doesn't work, fix it or replace it.
 

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I assume we're speaking of saxes of the same model from the same manufacturer. I think it's axiomatic that horns from different manufacturers will be different, even if they claim to be a copy. Historically, because of the amount of hand work involved, there might be significant differences from horn to horn of the same brand /model. Today, however(IMO), the hand work is being automated and computerized and the differences will decrease and primarily be a result of final adjustment, such as pad height. This is both the advantage and curse of newer horns, eg. the new Yamahas. Consistancy at the expense of individuality. I guess that's why a lot of players like vintage horns.
 

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But I wonder if set-up issues could have caused those differences. Or were there perhaps inherent qualities of the saxophones that caused them.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to separate the two, because players usually form synthetic, overall impressions based on how a horn plays, rather than trying to isolate and analyze specific characteristics.

Let's think about what setup contributes to the gestalt of the horn: we have factors like key weighting and key height that affect the overall feel of the horn. This is relatively easy to factor out of the actual sound and response of the horn. Key height, though, can definitely affect both intonation and tonal quality because it affects the venting. However I believe that three exemplars straight from the factory would not have enough variation to matter.

A big factor will be pad seating. A pad that seats well with a minimum of pressure, for which the new note seems to pop out effortlessly, will give a totally different impression than one that seals adequately but only with more pressure. Bad seating can make an excellent horn seem like a bad dog.

Further we have the problem of tiny leaks, which can adversely affect the response and tone even if the note seems to play OK.

To try to factor out such issues somewhat, you can do playing trials in the upper-tube notes, where there are less pads between you and the sound, but that is hardly foolproof.

I would agree that with present manufacturing tolerances--especially in relatively large-bore instruments like saxes (as opposed to oboes, for instance), perceived differences between similar instruments could be mostly due to setup variations.

But we really can't ignore the neck! As with flute headjoints, very, very small differences in the bore profile can cause very noticeable differences in the character of the sound and the response by affecting the higher partials. And necks, with their curves, are much more difficult to manufacture to consistent dimensions.

It would be good--if possible--when trying out different exemplars of an instrument that seem to play differently, to swap necks and see what happens.

Toby
 

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Discussion Starter #20
Thanks for your comments, Toby. It's too bad that all horns aren't set up properly before subjected to play testing.
 
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